“When I Exercise Regularly it is Easier for me to eat Healthily”: the Role of Transfer and Compensatory Health Cognitions in Health Behavior Theory

  • L. Fleig
  • L. Warner
  • M. Gholami
  • R. Schwarzer


Background: Usually, theories have been applied in research on single health behaviors, giving insights into that specific behavior but providing little knowledge on how individuals pursue a healthy lifestyle. The present study sought to apply the health action process approach to the prediction of healthy nutrition intentions and behavior and to test whether cross-behavior cognitions (i.e., transfer and compensatory health cognitions) explain additional variance in behaviour. Methods: In an online study, behavior, self-efficacy, outcome expectancies, risk perception, intentions, planning, social support, transfer and compensatory health cognitions were assessed in 259 adults. Regressions were performed to predict a) intentions and b) behavior. Sex, age, and body mass index served as covariates. Findings: Overall, the variables explained 29% of the variance in nutrition intentions, with behaviour-specific variables and cross-behavior cognitions making significant contributions. On the contrary, nutrition behaviour was associated with behaviour-specific variables only (i.e. planning). Discussion: The results provide preliminary support that cross-behavior cognitions are associated with intentions rather than behaviour. Single health behaviour theories can benefit from the inclusion of cross-behavior cognitions to explain how individuals regulate more than one health behavior.